Florida Small Businesses Face Unprecedented Challenges Amidst Summer Struggles
As the heat of summer bears down on Florida, small business owners find themselves in uncharted territory, grappling with a perfect storm of adversities that have left many businesses reeling. Danielle Evans, the owner of the Tampa boutique “Don Me Now,” took to Instagram to express her dismay, citing this summer as the toughest she has encountered in the boutique’s ten-year history.
Evans is not alone in her struggle. Across the region, entrepreneurs are feeling the pinch. Sans Market, a zero-waste store in St. Petersburg, also sounded the alarm on social media, echoing the sentiments of countless small business proprietors.
Traditionally, Florida’s small businesses anticipate a summer lull as the intense heat and daily downpours deter locals and tourists alike. However, 2023 has proved to be a shock for businesses spanning various sectors, including dance studios, grocery stores, and boutiques.
Despite the surge in “shop local” support during the pandemic and a flurry of consumer activity in the preceding year, this summer has proven challenging. Record-breaking July temperatures have driven foot traffic to all-time lows. The resurgence of international travel is diverting potential customers away from Florida, while the stagnation of prices despite declining inflation rates is also impacting consumer spending.
Interestingly, the community support that rallied around small businesses in 2020 appears to be notably absent this time around. Ester Venouziou, who manages Localshops1, a St. Petersburg-based small business organization, noted that around 70% of her members have reported struggling this summer, while the remaining 30% are merely treading water.
Kelly Flannery, CEO of the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce, confirmed this trend. The post-pandemic shopping frenzy has faded, and the region is experiencing its first “regular” summer since 2019.
Unfortunately, some businesses have succumbed to the challenges. Celine Beltgens, the owner of three vegan establishments in St. Petersburg, was forced to close her restaurant, Freya’s, this month. With her other businesses experiencing a dip in sales, Beltgens faced a difficult decision between paying interest on her COVID-19 relief loans or keeping Freya’s afloat.
While the struggles of Florida’s small businesses remain largely underappreciated, they persevere. Many, like store manager Magie Sebesta of Valkyrie Donuts, have seen their foot traffic dwindle significantly. Owners like Miranda Heitz of MZ Dance Company have had to cancel planned activities due to low turnout.
Despite the challenges, small business owners continue to weather the storm with hope for better days ahead. As the region braces for the approaching fall, many are exploring creative solutions, from altering marketing strategies to embracing new business concepts, to stay afloat until the bustling season returns. Loyal employees stand by their employers, as they all await the upswing that is sure to follow.